Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission nears home stretch

Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission is nearly ready to issue final recommendations to overhaul everything from school funding to teacher pay.

The panel of more than 30 people picked by the governor was divided into five subcommittees that have considered ways to: improve early childhood education, tailor traditional schools to each student’s needs, give parents more alternatives to traditional schools, recruit and retain more teachers and streamline the formula for dividing state funds among the 180 school districts.

Subcommittee leaders reported their recommendations to the full commission Thursday. Most of the proposals encountered no resistance, though there were calls to amend some before Nov. 19, when the commission will meet again to finalize ideas to be sent to Deal. There was pushback against a couple of proposals Thursday.

Commission leader Charles Knapp balked at a proposal from the teacher-recruitment committee to raise teacher base starting pay to $40,000, from the current $33,424. One estimate put the price tag at a minimum of $33 millon.

“The cost of doing that is extraordinary,” Knapp said. He recommended changing the proposal to say the group advocates for higher starting pay without stating a number.

Some lawmakers on the commission rejected another idea to increase funding for private preschools by giving them tax credits to participate in the state’s new quality rating system. A tax credit costs the government, they noted.

“I have a hard time giving for-profit companies a tax credit in order to have quality,” said Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody. “That should be essential to doing business.”

Recommendations from two of the other subcommittees got little comment. Perhaps the most important committee, the one working on school funding, had no new reports, having cancelled its last meeting.

Knapp, who heads that committee, said it will meet again Wednesday. He hopes to put a price estimate on all of the recommendations before sending them to the governor in December.

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